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Taking Infants Seriously

From the moment of birth, infants are capable of an astonishing range of behaviors and emotions. They can express joy, fear, anger, and contentment; they can move their bodies in a variety of ways, from grasping to kicking to crawling; they can learn from the world around them through their senses and interactions with caregivers. Yet all too often, society underestimates the intelligence and capabilities of infants, treating them as helpless and passive recipients of care rather than active and engaged learners. 

Infancy is a crucial period in a person’s life, as this is when the foundations for physical, cognitive, and socio-emotional development are laid. Yet, babies’ abilities to learn and absorb are often overlooked and underestimated in our society. They are seen as passive, dependent, and incapable of contributing to their own growth and learning. However, there has been a growing movement among educators, caregivers, and parents to take babies seriously – that is, to recognize their unique abilities and treat them with the respect and attention they deserve. This movement is based on a growing body of research into infant development, which has revealed that babies are far more capable than many people realize.

For example, research has shown that infants are born with a basic sense of morality, with the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, and to show empathy and compassion towards others. They are also capable of learning complex skills such as language, mathematics, and music at a surprisingly young age, and can benefit from a wide range of educational and enrichment activities. 

What does it mean to take infants seriously? It means acknowledging that babies are active learners who are constantly exploring and experimenting with the world around them. They are not empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge, but rather curious and capable beings who seek out information and engage in meaningful interactions with others. By taking infants seriously, we can create environments and relationships that support their development and respect their rights as human beings. However, taking infants seriously is not just a matter of recognizing their cognitive and physical abilities. It also involves treating them with respect and dignity, and acknowledging their unique perspectives and experiences. This means taking the time to listen to babies to observe their behaviors and responses, and to respond to their needs in a thoughtful and compassionate way. For example, when a baby cries, it may be a sign of discomfort, hunger, or fear – or it may simply be a way of communicating with parents.

By taking the time to understand the meaning behind the cry, and responding in a way that meets the infant’s needs, parents can help to build trust and develop strong relationships with their young charges. Similarly, by providing babies with a stimulating and supportive environment, parents can help to foster their development and encourage them to explore the world around them. This may involve providing age-appropriate toys and activities, having children’s books accessible, engaging in interactive play, and creating a safe and nurturing space for babies to learn and grow.

Here are some ways in which we can take infants seriously:
Respect their autonomy and preferences: Babies may not be able to communicate their preferences verbally, but they do have their own likes and dislikes. By observing their reactions and body language, parents can learn to respect their autonomy and avoid forcing them to do things they don’t want to do. For example, if an infant is showing signs of distress during a particular activity or interaction, it may be a sign that they are not enjoying it and need a break.

Provide responsive care: Infants rely on caregivers for their basic needs, but they also need emotional and social support to thrive. By responding promptly and sensitively to their cues, caregivers can establish a sense of trust and security that is essential for healthy attachment and socio-emotional development. This includes comforting them when they are upset, engaging in responsive play, and being attuned to their emotional needs.

Create meaningful learning experiences: Infants are active learners who are constantly seeking out new experiences and information. By providing them with opportunities for exploration, experimentation, and discovery, caregivers can foster their curiosity and promote their cognitive development. This includes offering age-appropriate toys and books, engaging in joint activities that encourage interaction and communication, and exposing them to a variety of sensory experiences.

Recognize their contributions: Babies may not be able to speak or perform complex tasks, but they are capable of making meaningful contributions to their own learning and to the relationships they have with others. By acknowledging and valuing their efforts and achievements, parents can build their confidence and sense of competence. This includes praising their attempts at new skills, celebrating their accomplishments, and giving them opportunities to contribute to household tasks and routines.

In conclusion, taking infants seriously means recognizing their agency, autonomy, and potential. By providing them with responsive care, meaningful learning experiences, and opportunities for contribution, we can support their growth and development in ways that respect their rights as human beings. Babies are not passive recipients of care but active learners who are capable of shaping their own lives and the world around them. It’s time we start taking them seriously.

Spend time with babies, read to them, talk to them, expose them to as much stuff as you can. Get books for babies, infant books, books that teach a kid to read. Keep them accessible. Let them get their hands on these books and learning materials. 

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